Essay: Thank Godless Goodness

My wife says grateful people are happy, and I want to be happy. Don’t we all? I like to think I am peachy-keen-ecstatic, perhaps with an occasional snarkastic twist. It is generally a wonderful world for me, but at times not so much. In many ways, I also think I’m fortunate to exist at all and the timing seems good.

This opinion is based mostly on my thoughts, but also on an essay by Daniel C. Dennett titled “Thank Goodness.” It’s from an anthology I’m reading, Philosophers Without Gods: Meditations on Atheism and the Secular Life, by Louise M. Anthony (author and editor). Here’s a quote separately attributed to Dennett about happiness: “The secret of happiness is: Find something more important than you are and dedicate your life to it.”

Now, given this reciprocal relationship between happiness and gratitude, isn’t gratitude (called by some the least felt of all human emotions) usually toward someone? When folks say we should be grateful, I agree. But to whom? Thank you, god, for all this that and the other good things, but not for any of the bad stuff? (we need a font for sarcasm) Thank you, science and scientists, doctors, researchers, inventors of medical equipment and pharmaceuticals?

Thank goodness is supposedly a euphemistic idiom for saying thank god without saying god, for some reason. Kind of like saying dad gum it for god damn it! Yesterday, that HGTV show guy in Mississippi said dad gum. (Preacher’s kid) Did anyone complain?

Is there more to this? Can saying thank goodness be useful to folks, even those who don’t believe a god exists; or that some god, spirit, or invisible force of nature did not intentionally cause the good luck?

And if there is a god, does he, she, or it give a crap if you’re grateful or not? I’ve mentioned before about my sister praying for a job and promising to go to Mass every Sunday if she got it. Can you imagine any god reaching out to shake hands to seal the deal? Nice of her to promise to keep her Catholic duty and avoid being sent to hell, but you had to know Noreen (and many others) to navigate such hazy reasoning.

If you are a believer, you may believe that in your superior wonderfulness you can repay god’s good graces in some way. Think about that. Talk about the man who has everything! (Dennett used that cliché in his essay, too.) Noreen worked at that job until she was 80 (good grief!). What if she had stopped going to church? Would she have lost the job? If I had told her that such logic is a basis of the protestant health and wealth movement, I’d a been given a look followed by some manner of listen, baby brother, condescending big sis-splaining. I got lots of that.

But Dennett claims saying thank goodness is not only good for the skeptical crowd, it’s okay for everyone. I agree. It makes sense. Goodness is just that, with or without the god factor. People, places, and things that are good foster more goodness. Intentions and actions that make the world a better place today and, in the future, comprise goodness. We can be grateful for goodness. We can repay goodness with more goodness.

Thank goodness for music, for art, for love, for the good side of human nature. Thank goodness for clean drinking water, medical science adding healthy, good quality years; for schools and teachers. We can be grateful for trees and plant more. We can find ways to help others. Or, I suppose you can say thank God. It’s up to you, but goodness is real, and we can repay it backward, forward, or right here and now. Can you add to my thank goodness list?

Have a goodness-filled weekend, and enjoy every day, if possible.

Bill

Exactly what is a Christian and who says so?

Spencer and I were walking to the car when he asked, “Are you a Christian?”

I was in my mid-twenties, been baptized, spent nine years in religious school, was married in a church by an ordained minister five years prior, was a father, and I occasionally went to church. I even spoke from the pulpit at some services because garnering community support was part of my job. I didn’t understand that Spencer’s question was a set-up.

When I said yes, his next question was, “Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?” To me this gibberish was an automatic of course, but I knew what was at the heart of his question. My Catholic response got the comment, “then you are not a Christian.”

I was, poor me, not a true Scotsman after all. What I believed and did was of no matter. It was that I needed to somehow surrender to the rules of the Southern Baptist Convention at the time.

Another time I was meeting with a childhood friend (for a time, my best) and religion came up. We’d not seen each other in about thirty years. We both grew up Catholic and attended the same religious school. His comment was, “I am a born-again Christian.” That means (is code for) he no longer considered himself Catholic. That is apostasy and heresy. Jimmy declared himself a fucking Protestant. By rule, he’d be automatically excommunicated.

Within a year or so, Jimmy died. His body was shipped home to his Catholic family. They arranged for a Catholic Funeral Mass and burial in a Catholic cemetery (consecrated ground where only Catholics still in the good graces of the Church may be interred). I don’t know if anyone else knew what he had told me. Surely his wife did. But there is saying, once Catholic, always Catholic. And much to the chagrin (or ignorance) of holier than thou folks like Spencer, Catholics are Christians. Likewise, the hundreds of other denominations, sects, and independent or nondenominational churches, that claim to be Christians. They are.

I attended Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) for a short time. In one of the men-only classroom sessions the leader of the group said, “I don’t even know anyone who is not Christian.” BSF also has women only sessions. I bet he was more flexible than Spencer.

So, barring the religion’s numerous gatekeepers who may declare anyone unfit to be Christian due to some denominational loophole, technicality, or love/hate for others, it seems that anyone who claims to be, is a Christian.

Jews for Jesus is the title of a group claiming to be Jewish. The real Jews say the group is Christian, not Jewish. If you claim Jesus was the Jewish Messiah (Messianic Jew), according to Jewish authorities, you’re not a Jew, but a Christian. The oddity here is that historically, the original Christians were members of a Jewish cult since there was no independent Christian religion at the time.

I know folks who claim to be Buddhist, but apparently are new age folks who like the ideas expressed, or allegedly postulated by Siddhartha, who was (ostensibly) Buddha. Similarly, I’ve met folks who claim to be Pagan (not atheist). Others claim to be Wiccan and some even claim to be witches. Even without latching onto a denomination, I suppose one could claim a different religion each day of the week and qualify without having to meet any standard or pay any fee.

Some religions may have hoops to jump through, such as baptism or a profession of faith, but most do not. You are what you claim. If you say you are a Christian, then that’s what you are. It doesn’t matter how you behave, what you believe, and you may be lying out your ass. It would be so much simpler today, when I can look at folks like Spencer and just say no.

So, who are those Christians, and who says so? They do. They are not just one thing. At least they seem to have stopped killing each other, for now.

While some denominations continue to grow, PEW research makes the case in this study that Christians are giving it up for atheism in enough numbers to hang your hat on.

Bill

Do Atheists have an Anti-Religious Bias?

I know. That seems like a silly (maybe stupid) question.

The online Merriam Webster dictionary defines anti-religious as opposing or hostile to religion or to the power and influence of organized religion. It states that an anti-religious person may have a religious bias (Merriam-Webster.com).

Really? But then, wouldn’t a religious person have a pro-religious bias?

I define an atheist as a person who, at the very least, doubts, questions, or is skeptical of the existence of any god. This doubt, to some degree, may range from there might not be a god to a level of certitude that no deity exists. The problem is that one can be religious based on practices and behavior (not belief) and still share the maybe not doubt.

It gets more complicated when the picture of relationship with a deity is considered. This is when the concept of religion is presented. I claim to be atheist. I also think I understand why people may say they believe in god, why they practice some religion, and why they think I should.

To many, religion and god are inseparable. While the two belong together, I doubt the inseparable part.

Either a god exists, or it doesn’t. While no belief or religion changes anything about existence, religion most definitely effects what theists believe. It also influences how someone thinks and behaves vis-à-vis the belief in that a deity, spirit, or a god. It is not I believe, therefore I’m religious; it’s more like, I’m religious, therefore I believe.

The problem is that religion, while unquestionably a human creation, is the process of how we should deal with said god, which is, hypothetically, not a creation of humans. Religion dogmatizes the protocol with the vastness of spiritual trappings that accompany a god spirit.

I don’t know how many religions exist, but even within each there are likely disputing denominations. Further disparity exists with personal-level religious selective interpretations by people in the millions.

An atheist is a disbeliever in god—all gods and spirits. However, if someone believes in any one god and none of the hundreds (if not thousands) of others, one is still considered a believer even though he or she may insist that none of the other gods ever existed, thus a disbeliever in the majority.

Antitheism is similar, if not synonymous with anti-religious, in that it applies to people who view theism as dangerous, destructive, or encouraging harmful behavior. For example, Christopher Hitchens wrote, “I’m not even an atheist so much as I am an antitheist; I not only maintain that all religions are versions of the same untruth, but I hold that the influence of churches, and the effect of religious belief, is positively harmful.” (Hitchens, Christopher (2001). Letters to a Young Contrarian, New York: Basic Books)

Okay. All religions…harmful. I agree.

A member of a musical ensemble recently told me she was distracted playing music in a church setting because she was not a believer but said that she was not an atheist in the sense that I was. Maybe she intended to say that she was not as militant as I may be. She may have been thinking me antitheist.

The comment surprised me because I was uncertain of her meaning. I would have no problem playing music in a church and sitting through the service. I’ve sat through many. My friend’s view of my personal atheism was much more antitheist and anti-religious than I think I am. Yet, to a degree I accept Hitch’s assessment. And she may be correct in that my atheism, especially as an American atheist, comes with a certain amount of anti-religion bias. I think all religion is nonsense, but I am not a religiophobe, Islamophobic, nor anti-god squad. Yet, the man with a gun over there scares me.

I think religion is pointless because the elusiveness of a god of any kind is part of virtually every religion (nix nature worshipers, some polytheists, and Buddhist-like groups). I also hold that religion has been, and may continue to be, harmful to humanity. I find this erroneous opinion of my view regarding religion to be common even among other atheists and agnostics. I also find it hard to explain because it’s not black and white.

I stopped practicing religion because after 30 years of searching for the right one, 12 years in the house of the best I could manage, and swimming in the deep end of my ministerial practice at the threshold of ordination, it dawned on me that it was all one big con. With no evidence of the existence of any god, it was clearly all woo-woo bull shit, even if occasionally psychologically helpful to some, and pointless.

Of course, some religious groups do a lot of good. Practitioners make clear that they are kind to others, the downtrodden, the sick and weak, and in very practical ways comforting to many who need it. None of that do they attempt to cover up like the harm that is done.

But they also play the victim. God is on their side of course, but they still manage to be poor and pitiful, yet fully control government and laws. And all that good? Every good thing done in the name of a religion or a god can be, and often is, done without religion or god, except for the ever-valuable, anti-materialist, thoughts and prayers.

My bias toward any religion? Of course, I have some.

Many religious believers and religions have built in biases toward other religions, sects, and denominations. I saw a bumper sticker that said, “If you support abortion [reproductive choice] you cannot be Catholic.” I may have some bias toward good people who are religious or practice some religion. But only to a limited degree in that the following of religion obviously taints anyone. Anti-fundamentalist? Definitely. I hope I continue to be opposed to any form of inflexible closed mindedness. Especially my own (Ok, boomer).

Bill

Who wants to tell ’em?

Religious and Biblical Scholars: who are they and what do they do?

Have you ever read or heard this phrase? “Biblical scholars agree … (something, something).” The words may get couched with qualifiers like most or many, but virtually never are qualifications for such standing within any group of scholars, bona fides, or verifiable statistics provided. We are to accept something because someone said that most biblical scholars think so, when none of them has ever been asked. We are not told who they are, unless they are the ones doing the reporting.

That’s because there is no agreed-to standard or licensing agency for those referred to as bible scholars or experts. When you see that phrase, it is nonsense (BS is for biblical scholars). It is a fallacious appeal to authorities that may not exist. In fact, unless it is specific as to who makes the claim and is supported by factual evidence, it’s usually made up: a lie.

I find it odd that someone would have to resort to fiction to support a biblical claim.

Yet, there are such biblical experts. In fact, here is a post by one (because he says he is one) that talks about them and what they don’t do.

He says that biblical scholarship is an intellectual enterprise (okay, but usually tainted). He also claims that scholarship in the field of biblical studies is always linked with ideological, political, cultural, and religious commitments (i.e., biases). Most of these folks have a dog in the fight and his name is bias. He is fed opinion and religious dogma through indoctrination and education.

In the discussion, the scholar goes on to state that biblical scholars not only do not study the Bible, they are not theologians or historians, do not read the Bible in Hebrew and Greek, are not objective intellectuals, and do not read the Bible for the church.

Taken individually, or even as an identified group such as Vatican biblical scholars, or those employed by BYU or Ouachita Baptist University, especially if named and verified, opinions can be taken with stronger academic validity than when the broader term biblical scholars (implying all) is used.

A person who has done advanced study in a unique field is a considered a scholar, but the focus may be unclear. One may be awarded a master’s degree in advanced studies, none of which includes anything biblical. My master’s level concentrations included Sociology, Public Administration/Political Science/Government, Education/Educational Systems Management (my MA)/Administration, and a boatload of advanced military stuff. I am a scholar of none, but Monday morning quarterback to all.

A person with a master’s degree in theology (maybe online) may not have taken as much Bible as another person with the same degree, yet an undergraduate from a Bible college may have taken several semester hours of required Bible courses or Bible history.

A person with a doctorate in theology may have a degree focused upon a specialty that was not the Bible, and it probably was filtered by the ideas of a specific religion or denomination. Or, at least, he or she had a view through that lens. I assume that these folks are the biblical scholars.

Generally, they are not secular. They are not without extreme bias (my opinion and experience), and may not be the authoritative experts we assume they are. And remember, everybody has an opinion, even scholars, scientists, experts, and village idiots.

Finally, to determine the opinions of biblical scholars, someone must conduct a survey of each and ask them questions (assuming bona fide credentials). To be valid, the survey questions must be structured and framed by experts so that the answers and assumed results are consistent, valid, and reliable.

So, when you see reference to biblical scholars, be skeptical of an attempt to persuade you with BS fantasy and lies. But you knew that. Right?

Bill

 

Poetry: When You Go

When you go to church,
synagogue, or mosque, and
you do what you are
supposed to do, and you say or
sing same, maybe even dress
as expected, but you don’t
believe in the one key
uniting thing all the
others do, or you think
they do. They may be
just like you.

You go for reasons
only you know,
maybe you don’t understand
yourself, maybe you must go.
Maybe it’s grandma, who
you do believe in, maybe
it’s for money or glory, or
sex, security, or safety.
Maybe companionship or fellows.
Maybe you are searching
for something.

Some secrets
can never be told and die
with their keepers.

Bill

Did the Catholic Church Corrupt Me (or you)?

In defense of anyone who was raised in a Catholic denomination (there are approximately 24 different Rites or brands), or converted to one, I find it insulting that some ignoramus knuckleheads insist that such persons are corrupted or stupid. Frankly, that is bull shit. I will push back against such nonsense. Since the accusing parties are atheists, their stance is hypocritical, or the pot calling the kettle, etc. Holier than thou atheism? No wonder some of us prefer agnostic.

How I got here

When I was a practicing Catholic of the Roman Rite, I often came to the defense of atheists and atheism. Now an unapologetic atheist, I find myself taking a stance that opposes the position of some atheists (anti-theists, as I see them) who seem to think all Catholics should immediately abandon their faith because church history is unclean. Religion is about God, not history.

Anti-theist atheists, and many others, struggle to deal with the fact that I did not embrace atheism because I rejected religion or embraced evolutionary science. I did neither. Nor did I reject God, as many believers are wanting to think. I simply concluded that it is all man-made nonsense. Since I find no reason to believe a god of any kind exists, religion is pointless for me. But not so for everyone.

A Cultural or Excommunicated Catholic?

I am a baptized Catholic who is an apostate, heretic, and to a lesser degree, a schismatic. I have been automatically excommunicated. Until the excommunication is lifted, it’s forbidden for me to have any ministerial part in the celebration of a Mass or other official worship ceremony. But anyone may attend Mass. I may not celebrate or receive the sacraments or to exercise any formal Church functions. I wouldn’t. I am good with that and I understand it.

I am not a cultural catholic who identifies with Catholic traditions. However, if invited, I would attend church at special occasions like Christmas, Easter, baptisms, weddings, funerals, and such.

What it means to be, or to, corrupt

If someone or something is corrupt, they’re broken morally or in some other way. Corrupt people perform immoral or illegal acts for personal gain, without apology. I have been accused of this because I was raised Catholic. I experienced much more informal corrupting influences outside of the Church in the secular world.

The irony here is that this is the same form of name-calling error believers make regarding atheists. We are corrupt and without a moral compass. Right?

In my case, I was labeled corrupt (indoctrinated would have worked) by a nonbeliever because I spent so many years in religion, particularly as a child. The same person also diagnosed me with cognitive dissonance because I do not regret my Catholic religious roots. He does not understand why I don’t see things his way.

When you corrupt someone, you convince them to do something wrong or even illegal. If you talk your little brother into stealing cookies from the cookie jar, you’re corrupting him. Something corrupt is rotten, spoiled, or out of commission, like a file that makes your computer crash.

To imply, or to directly state, that I was corrupted by the Church is fucking nonsense. In no way was I ever encouraged to do anything wrong or illegal by a Catholic church official or layman. If anything, it seemed to me that everything I wanted to do was morally wrong, according to the Church. In many cases, they had a point.

Should any religion be rejected?

I don’t know. That’s a personal decision. There certainly are a lot of things that should change in virtually every religion and within the minds of believers as well as skeptics. I have concluded that it is highly probable that no god exists, so I do reject all religion since the reason for it does not exist. Religions have done much harm, but also some good. It’s the people that count, not the dogma.

I struggle more with atheists behaving like ass holes, since atheist is how I currently identify. The same person accused me of guilt by association. I worry more about the association issue regarding my skepticism than anything in my past religious affiliations.

In Conclusion

I do not expect the Catholic Church or its people to take all their marbles and report to Saint Peter anytime soon. I don’t expect atheists or any other group to suddenly be enlightened or to behave better. I don’t anticipate any of us will stop criticizing religion. I don’t expect a perfect world.

I do hope that most of us can follow the ancient tradition of treating each other respectfully. I also expect that when I see an innocent group being wrongfully maligned, I will take up the golden rule banner. If that fails, I don’t know what I might do.

Bill

God ≠ Religion ≠ God

Belief in a god or other spirits does not require practicing a religion. I emphasize the difference between the two things: a belief in a god and doing some religion. Religion makes the rules for dealing with that god, and in some cases other gods.

If something like a god exists as a spiritual or physical deity, with or without interest in humanity or any of Earth’s flora and fauna, then he, she, or it must exist outside of human contact or detection. If not, we would be able to detect a god and the whole question of existence goes away.

Then, we are left to fight over religion, something we have done for thousands of years. There could be anything out there. But, if no god exists, which seems likely without contact or detection, religion becomes pointless as rules for interacting with something nonexistent, which is silly.

Over the years, gods of one kind or another have been given names. You’d think they’d come with their own names, but they need us to name them. Think about it. Why would they need names anyway? Is it so we can tell them apart? We had to name them.

What ever happened to these gods we named: Baal, Isis, Osiris, Saturn, Furrina, Venus, Odin, Thor, Mars, Jupiter, Diana of Ephesus, Pluto, Nin, Istar, Sin, and Mami, to list only a few of the many who were worshipped and believed-in by millions of people? Admittedly, a few gods got their own planet.

Many people claim to believe in some god (usually it’s Jesus in these times and parts of the Universe) yet choose to practice no religion whatsoever (often because some church or preacher pissed them off). They, along with atheists and many others in between, are called nones because we mark or write none for the question that asks what religion you are.

I’ve never seen the question asked like this—Do you believe in any god or gods? That is unless it’s being asked by someone like employees of Pew Research while conducting a religion survey. Many of us lie about that part and say yes when we don’t believe. Back in the 1950’s if you wanted to file with the Draft Board as a conscientious objector, that was the first question asked.

The question usually asked is of what religion do you consider yourself a member, or something very similar. But that’s no big deal.

A bigger deal, which is much more interesting, is that there are many people participating in and practicing religious rites and rituals of one kind or another (even preachers, priests, and other ministers), but who do not believe any god exists. Some of these closeted atheists should win Academy Awards.

Other atheists are made to feel welcome at places like Unitarian Universalist churches and are comfortably open about their disbelief (I honestly don’t get this, but I’m far from an expert). Most others are faking belief (Baptists, Mormons, Catholics, Muslims, Hindus, you-name-it) as best they can for whatever reason they may have.

I stopped believing in a god before I stopped going to church. In fact, over the years I was on-and-off or hit-and-miss as in I’ll try this religion thing one more time. I think that’s the case for many other people. The sequence often goes like this: belief based on what we are told, doubts from thinking too much, disbelief as doubt grows, hanging in there, and finally leaving the faith/church/cult/whatever.

In my case, during the process of my deconversion (not a fan of that word, but that’s what it’s called), I held a senior leadership position in my large Roman Catholic parish (aka, church). Before I left, I was on the threshold of moving on to a new job in another state. I waited until I moved. Then, I simply did nothing. It was easy, if a bit semi-deceptive.

I thought it was better and easier to let my term expire quietly and move on rather than to go through all the business of resigning early and trying to explain why. As part of the process of finding a replacement for me, future leadership candidates asked me a lot of personal spiritual questions that I dodged or declined to answer. I recall saying, I’m not the person you want to ask that question of. I was lying. I knew the answer, but I avoided embarrassment for us both. They didn’t understand, of course, but it was better than don’t ask me, I no longer believe any of this (expletive).

Three or four years passed before I openly and clearly said that I am atheist. Before that, I knew, or at least thought I was. But saying the words to any other person seemed scary. I was wrong. It was not scary. It was just the opposite. It was a relief and not something I should have been worried about. If friends and family can’t handle the truth about me, that’s on them.

If I lost any friends I’ve not noticed. Certainly, some relationships have changed, but so what? I’m sure there were some believers who added distance between us, but others would privately confess to me that they were also atheist or some form of unbeliever, or that a loved one of theirs was.

Only a few centuries ago, Christians killed fellow Christians, Jews, and Muslims over religious differences. Now many Muslims seem set on killing the same three groups, including fellow Muslims (it’s a religion of peace, don’t ya know?). In some places, Hindus and Buddhists seem to be at it.

They are all united in that they all get their holy tit in the wringer if you’re atheist. The problems and shortcomings of religion, while denied by many, are obvious to most people if it is not their personal religion of choice we are talking about. But do they ever consider how foolish it all is if no god exists? Religion becomes a symbol of mankind’s stupidity over the eons.

Therefore, I don’t spend much time hammering religion. I can, and sometimes I must make my point. But the key question should be do you believe in any god? If so, then religion is rightfully a secondary issue. If not, then religion is immaterial.

What religion am I? It’s immaterial.

Bill